Augmented reality is coming back, but did it ever really go away?

In 2014, augmented reality (RA) was generating a big buzz thanks to the release of Google Glass for consumers; smart glasses that made everyone think we were entering a new futuristic era of this kind that had never been seen in Minority Report. Unfortunately, however, that world didn’t have to be and the biggest one that came out of RA since then is Pokémon Go !.

Or is it?

RA may not have reached a critical mass in the consumer realm (beyond the gaming niche), but it was quietly embraced by the industry, where demand has been growing steadily.

RA in the company

The enterprise RA space has matured over several years, with initial investment and adoption beginning remarkably in 2015. Microsoft’s original HoloLens helped spark significant interest and remains a market leader and recent analytics PwC has identified at least 1,300 unique examples of commercial use of RA in the UK and US.

“In the company, the RA market has been the reason for remote work and empowerment,” says Eric Abbruzzese, research director at ABI Research. “Remote assistance and training are the two main use cases. [These offer] increasing worker efficiency and reducing downtime and travel. The integration of the worker with existing systems also adds value, for example, that the entry of the worker through an RA device is entered directly into the Internet of Things (IoT) platform and automatic update data, which can then be transmitted to all workers ”.

Industry interest has grown exponentially over the past 18 months due to COVID-19, as distance work has become a requirement rather than a pleasure to have. Not all of this immediately turned into adoption, but that interest is only reinforced even when the pandemic begins to wane, Abbruzzese notes.

Where are the attractive consumer products?

The consumer market has been a different story. There has not yet been an attractive product for smart glasses for the consumer, and while efforts in RA for mobile devices have proven successful, they have not become ubiquitous.

Still, it looks like it will change. After years of quiet investments in virtual reality and virtual reality (VR) behind the scenes, large technology companies are now beginning to take their solutions out of the shadows.

“The AR never went away, but the consumer market is showing renewed interest because some of the tech giants (apples, microsoft, Facebook) are blabbering on about their rumors ads,” says Tuong Nguyen. Gartner’s chief analyst.

“There is so much joke right now; financing announcements, patents, acquisitions. At its 2021 World Developers Conference, Apple made a lot of RA announcements without saying those words, but you need to pay attention and connect the dots.

“Personally, I would not want to use the term AR because it has been around for a long time and there is a lot of luggage and expectations. However, the fact is that we have reached a point where certain elements make possible mature RA solutions possible. Things have happened behind the curtains, but that’s when everything has revealed that the public is excited.

It is rumored that Apple will launch a head-mounted immersive device (HMD) in 2022 and a visible AR device in 2023. Abbruzzese expects the HMD to be similar to current VR headsets like the Oculus Quest, while the AR device is more open in terms of capabilities and form. “In any case, it will almost certainly be connected to an iOS device and will play a role similar to that of the Apple Watch today.

“Microsoft has HoloLens and is developing greater RA compatibility and capability in other products like Teams and Azure,” he continues, “while Facebook has Reality Labs, with a product confirmed this year and similarly already has content and partnerships Snap also has an upcoming manufacturer of purchased WaveOptics products and displays. “

The RA has captured the imagination of consumers, once again

Analysts expect products like AR glasses to capture the imagination of consumers over the next few years, with CCS Insight predicting that many major consumer brands, including Samsung, will be betting on their claims in this area by 2023. It expects sales of 15 million such devices by 2025, increasing similarly to other recent technologies. Smart watches, for example, went from less than a million units to more than 25 million in just three years.

There are challenges ahead when it comes to adopting AI; for example, Jeremy Dalton, author and head of PwC’s XR (Extended Reality), notes that high-end enterprise headphones are still very expensive to produce and buy, while in the consumer there is currently a limited amount of available content.

On the contrary, Dalton believes RA has strong growth prospects in both the consumer and business markets, and there are some exciting developments that will help drive its adoption.

“In addition to advances in camera-based scanning technology, LiDAR (depth-detection laser scanning technology) has made RA even more powerful in the hands of consumers. It is no longer limited to simply displaying an image on top of a real-world video channel: virtual objects act like real ones and appear anchored to the surfaces of the physical world around you.

“And the AR has been easier to access,” Dalton continues. “Through webAR, you can do this through your phone’s web browser without having to download any software, reducing the friction that was there before when it came to technology.”

Advance in the curve

Future companies now plan to move ahead of the curve by investigating how RA could support their business and / or commercial offerings in the future.

Presentation design agency BrightCarbon, for example, recently delivered Oculus Quest 2 headphones to each of its 80 employees so they can start thinking about how RA and VR technology could work in the presentation and event industry.

“One of the main areas of growth for our agency is training, especially just-in-time and e-learning, and I think it’s an area where RA could become its own,” says the lead consultant. John Bevan. “We gave the staff these headphones in part as a thank you for their motivation during the locks, but also for seeing what we can do with the technology and who is interested in pushing it forward. We have so many creative people across the company, from instructional designers to messaging and visualization consultants, and from the moment we started testing the VR / AR experience, we started thinking about how it could be used.

“It was exciting for me to introduce this technology to the whole business, see what ideas come up, build some prototypes and try things out. In this way, we are ahead of the curve and when our customers at the business level start to adopt AR and want to build something, we will be ready to offer them a solid offer “, he concludes.

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